Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Ireland make the perfect start to summer with victory over Pakistan

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Next month’s T20 World Cup schedule leaves open the possibility of Ireland and Pakistan squaring off in the final group game in Florida with a place in the competition’s next stage on the line. Inevitable questions about laying down a marker have surfaced after Ireland opened their summer with a five-wicket win over the same opposition in Clontarf.

Given these two teams had only met once in T20 cricket before Friday, labelling a first Irish short-format victory as historic seems over the top. Pakistan’s poor display in the field should also warn against hyperbole. Yet nostalgic memories of beating Pakistan in the 2007 50-over World Cup ensures any sort of success for Ireland will elicit more emotion than wins against other sides.

“I think big teams are completely aware of what we can do when we perform,” said Andrew Balbirnie, named player of the match for his knock of 77 off 55 balls. “Knowing we have Pakistan at the World Cup, it could come down to a game like that, they’ll know they’ll have to play pretty good cricket to beat us.”

Be it the lack of quality domestic fixtures or, at this stage, pure superstition, Ireland have historically been poor at the start of a campaign. Add to that a mixed at best record of beating higher-ranked nations at home and Friday’s series-opening win looks all the more important.

“We always shout about it before the games, ‘make sure we start well lads, we never start well,’” acknowledged Balbirnie. “We’re a team that needs to play to get into a series, we’ve trained well in the last couple of weeks.”

Balbirnie hit 10 boundaries and two maximums in his knock, good for a strike-rate of 140 as his favoured sweep shot off the spinners proved to be a strong weapon. Despite the quality of his innings, he did not get Ireland over the line after being bowled in the penultimate over by a Shaheen Afridi full toss. Ireland still required 16 runs with their top scorer now back in the sheds.

“I didn’t watch the last over, once I’m out I feel like I’ve let the team down,” he says. “If we didn’t get over the line I’d have been sick. I think the guys to come in and get us over the line shows a lot of character as a group.

“I’m a terrible watcher, I’d much rather be out there. Harry [Tector] and Lorcan [Tucker] had to sit me down and calm me down, I was very angry but I’m delighted now.”

The victory could well be a bigger boost than normal given the build-up to the game was dominated by news of a contractual stand-off. Last week, the Irish male players rejected Cricket Ireland’s central contract offers as they continue to look for pay rises. Since March, they have been playing on last year’s terms which have rolled over indefinitely after their expiration.

“We’ve had a number of conversations but the main point from us is we stick together,” said Balbirnie on the off-field distraction. “If we stick together on the pitch, we stick together off the pitch. When we get over the line, we want to win games of cricket for Ireland, that doesn’t change. That’s just a big boost to start our summer.”

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